Behind the Image: Landscape Photography on a Frozen Mountain Lake

Last weekend I spent one afternoon and evening up at the frozen Lake Dillon trying to find some new compositions and interesting light. I had a lot of fun filming and putting together this behind-the-scenes video from the shoot and came away with a couple images I'm happy with. I'll be doing more videos like these in the future, so subscribe to the channel if you haven't yet! 

Top 30 Images of 2017

I dove deep into landscape photography in 2017, ending the year with almost 20,000 images. Narrowing it down is always difficult, but here are my favorite 30 from the year. Of course there are more on Instagram (@brianwlackey) too if you're interested and lots more coming in 2018. 

Quick iPhone shot from Breckenridge early in the year. Nice of these random guys to wear yellow for my image.

Sam and I drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park over the 4th of July weekend to try some Milky Way astrophotography. The moon was low on the horizon to my right, illuminating me and the rocks I would stand on. I composed the image and set a 10 second timer to run into position. Then I just had to stand really, really still for about 30 seconds while the camera took in as much light from the stars as it could. By having such a long exposure, the camera is able to see more of the night sky than we can with our naked eye.

Sam and I drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park over the 4th of July weekend to try some Milky Way astrophotography. The moon was low on the horizon to my right, illuminating me and the rocks I would stand on. I composed the image and set a 10 second timer to run into position. Then I just had to stand really, really still for about 30 seconds while the camera took in as much light from the stars as it could. By having such a long exposure, the camera is able to see more of the night sky than we can with our naked eye.

The perfect summer swimming hole. This waterfall (Slap Virje) is a short drive from the town of Bovec in Slovenia's Soča River Valley.

The perfect summer swimming hole. This waterfall (Slap Virje) is a short drive from the town of Bovec in Slovenia's Soča River Valley.

Slovenia's Soča River is actually made of gatorade

Slovenia's Soča River is actually made of gatorade

We didn't think there would be much of a sunset since it had been overcast all afternoon and were back at our campsite building a fire and starting on dinner. A touch of pink through the trees was enough to get us to walk out to this clearing where we saw an amazing pink and purple light display spanning the entire sky. I rushed to find a composition and ended up really happy with this and how the curving trail leads the viewer's eye right to the mountains and the sky.

We didn't think there would be much of a sunset since it had been overcast all afternoon and were back at our campsite building a fire and starting on dinner. A touch of pink through the trees was enough to get us to walk out to this clearing where we saw an amazing pink and purple light display spanning the entire sky. I rushed to find a composition and ended up really happy with this and how the curving trail leads the viewer's eye right to the mountains and the sky.

Last light from Managart Pass in Slovenia's Julian Alps

Last light from Managart Pass in Slovenia's Julian Alps

As the fog surrounded the hilltop, the floodlight illuminating the church steeple lit up the whole scene with this eery pink and orange glow. It had rained earlier that day and I composed this image with the church reflecting in a small mud puddle in the dirt road.

As the fog surrounded the hilltop, the floodlight illuminating the church steeple lit up the whole scene with this eery pink and orange glow. It had rained earlier that day and I composed this image with the church reflecting in a small mud puddle in the dirt road.

Less than 2 hours after landing in Ljubljana, I arrived at this hilltop church. Sunset had already come and gone, but I often like shooting at the blue hour anyway, and the fog really added to the mood.

Less than 2 hours after landing in Ljubljana, I arrived at this hilltop church. Sunset had already come and gone, but I often like shooting at the blue hour anyway, and the fog really added to the mood.

When I made the last minute decision to make the drive down to Great Sand Dunes National Park, I didn't expect to see scenes like this.

When I made the last minute decision to make the drive down to Great Sand Dunes National Park, I didn't expect to see scenes like this.

One of the top 5 sunsets of my life. The cold was draining my camera batteries and I had to run back to the car to grab a spare. Rocky Mountain National Park is great all year, but the off season is probably my favorite time to explore this gem.

One of the top 5 sunsets of my life. The cold was draining my camera batteries and I had to run back to the car to grab a spare. Rocky Mountain National Park is great all year, but the off season is probably my favorite time to explore this gem.

The first fox I'd seen in the wild. I spend a spring evening exploring the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and saw more wildlife than humans. This guy, plus another fox, and six moose.

The first fox I'd seen in the wild. I spend a spring evening exploring the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and saw more wildlife than humans. This guy, plus another fox, and six moose.

Sunrise didn't really happen, but I love this image with the two small people in the distance showing just how big this peak is in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sunrise didn't really happen, but I love this image with the two small people in the distance showing just how big this peak is in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sunrise at Lake Bled, Slovenia. I fell in love with Slovenia in this spot in January of 2012 and have been back twice since then. I don't think this trip was the last time I'll visit either.

Sunrise at Lake Bled, Slovenia. I fell in love with Slovenia in this spot in January of 2012 and have been back twice since then. I don't think this trip was the last time I'll visit either.

My new favorite waterfall in Colorado. On my map, it's just listed as "Waterfall", but I've heard some other people call it Mystic Falls. I went twice this summer and we had the place to ourselves both times.

My new favorite waterfall in Colorado. On my map, it's just listed as "Waterfall", but I've heard some other people call it Mystic Falls. I went twice this summer and we had the place to ourselves both times.

Campsite views near Telluride, Colorado

Campsite views near Telluride, Colorado

First snow over Telluride, Colorado

First snow over Telluride, Colorado

I somehow convinced my friends Jeremy and Michelle to come with me to see sunrise at Loveland Pass before skiing. Sunrise is always a good idea.

I somehow convinced my friends Jeremy and Michelle to come with me to see sunrise at Loveland Pass before skiing. Sunrise is always a good idea.

My friend Jeremy and I were camping near Crested Butte and decided to explore along a creek behind our campsite. We ended up stumbling upon several stunning waterfalls and decided that this spot was too perfect to not set up a hammock for a bit.

My friend Jeremy and I were camping near Crested Butte and decided to explore along a creek behind our campsite. We ended up stumbling upon several stunning waterfalls and decided that this spot was too perfect to not set up a hammock for a bit.

First light on the mountains over Colorado's Lake Dillon

First light on the mountains over Colorado's Lake Dillon

My car's thermometer read 2°F and there was a thick layer of hoarfrost covering the entire forest

My car's thermometer read 2°F and there was a thick layer of hoarfrost covering the entire forest

One of the last camping trips of the year. Telluride and the San Juan Mountains quickly jumped to one of my favorite parts of Colorado this year.

One of the last camping trips of the year. Telluride and the San Juan Mountains quickly jumped to one of my favorite parts of Colorado this year.

A foggy evening in Most na Soči. I'd left my camera in the hotel room and was walking to dinner when I saw the fog start to roll in over the Alps. Dinner didn't end up happening until well after dark.

A foggy evening in Most na Soči. I'd left my camera in the hotel room and was walking to dinner when I saw the fog start to roll in over the Alps. Dinner didn't end up happening until well after dark.

Under the bridge in Most na Soči, Slovenia. I hadn't intended to spend any time in this town, but as soon as I saw it from the road, I started looking for a hotel. The emerald Soča River is dammed up here, leading to some cool reflection opportunities when the weather is calm. This image ended up winning a photo contest on YouTube as well (from Brendan van Son's channel).

Under the bridge in Most na Soči, Slovenia. I hadn't intended to spend any time in this town, but as soon as I saw it from the road, I started looking for a hotel. The emerald Soča River is dammed up here, leading to some cool reflection opportunities when the weather is calm. This image ended up winning a photo contest on YouTube as well (from Brendan van Son's channel).

Lake Dillon after skiing. There was a light layer of swirling mist on the glass-smooth lake and a long exposure (on a tripod) smoothed it out into this ethereal reflection.

Lake Dillon after skiing. There was a light layer of swirling mist on the glass-smooth lake and a long exposure (on a tripod) smoothed it out into this ethereal reflection.

The water in Slovenia is often similar in color to the lakes in the Canadian Rockies. Here, however, the color comes from dissolved limestone, not glacial sediment.

The water in Slovenia is often similar in color to the lakes in the Canadian Rockies. Here, however, the color comes from dissolved limestone, not glacial sediment.

On my way home from a few early season ski runs, I pulled out the camera at Loveland Pass and was drawn to this patch of golden light spilling through the clouds onto the mountains. Something about this image really connects with me and it's probably my overall favorite from 2017.

On my way home from a few early season ski runs, I pulled out the camera at Loveland Pass and was drawn to this patch of golden light spilling through the clouds onto the mountains. Something about this image really connects with me and it's probably my overall favorite from 2017.

Slovenia's Soča River Valley is home to dozens and dozens of waterfalls, but I think this one (Slap Kozjak) was probably my favorite.

Slovenia's Soča River Valley is home to dozens and dozens of waterfalls, but I think this one (Slap Kozjak) was probably my favorite.

Longs Peak and countless stars reflecting in Rocky Mountain National Park's Bear Lake.

Longs Peak and countless stars reflecting in Rocky Mountain National Park's Bear Lake.

I bought a drone (DJI Mavic Pro) in early 2017 and took it with me to Slovenia. This shot is of the historic old town of Piran, across the Adriatic from Venice.

I bought a drone (DJI Mavic Pro) in early 2017 and took it with me to Slovenia. This shot is of the historic old town of Piran, across the Adriatic from Venice.

It's a pretty dry part of the state, but I went to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park twice this year and it absolutely poured both times. This image was from a trip with my parents in September. They were waiting for me back in the car when this thunderstorm rolled up the canyon. I took this image and then was quickly chased back to the car by several big lightning strikes.

It's a pretty dry part of the state, but I went to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park twice this year and it absolutely poured both times. This image was from a trip with my parents in September. They were waiting for me back in the car when this thunderstorm rolled up the canyon. I took this image and then was quickly chased back to the car by several big lightning strikes.

2°F Sunrise and Time Lapse at Lake Dillon

My car's thermometer read 2°F when I got to Lake Dillon just before sunrise. 

Brrrr.

Over my thermal top, I put on a thin fleece, a fleece vest, the warmest down jacket I own, a neck gaiter, a ski mask, a beanie, snow boots, microspikes for traction, and drained the last of my hot coffee. It'd be overkill for skiing or snowshoeing, but hopefully warm enough for some landscape photography. 

Could I BE wearing any more clothes??

Could I BE wearing any more clothes??

Driving in from Denver, I'd seen glimpses of fog over the lake, but in the dark it was hard to get a good feel for what the conditions might really be like. A few yards from the car, however, I saw the fog swirling above the lake below, just thick enough to be interesting without obscuring my view of the peaks in the distance.

Perfect! These are the conditions I always hope for on a shoot like this.

I down-climb a bit from the scenic overlook. It's nice, but the really scenic parts are often just above/below/near the actual viewing platform. Plus I see some rough boulders that will hopefully make for a good foreground element, giving the images an anchor.

The sun hasn't quite risen yet, but it's still light enough to see where I'm going and the lake below. The fog seems to be emanating from the (relatively) warm lake and swirling around. I needed to figure out how to capture this motion, either in photo or video.

My first thought: Time Lapse.

Okay, get the small tripod out, set up the Sony a6000 with the 16-70 f/4 lens zoomed all the way out and open up the crappy Sony time lapse app. As much as I adore their cameras, it's clear that Sony is a hardware, rather than a software, company. I need to figure out how to do these videos properly one of these days, but today's not the day to risk mistakes with this scene unfolding. I'll take a decent video over a likely overexposed disaster in conditions like this, so I just set it to "Sunrise" mode and let the camera do its thing.

Once that's set up, I start thinking about photos as the purple pre-dawn light reveals the scene unfolding below me. I promptly forget about the time lapse, and only later realize how good of a decision it was to get one running before I got thinking about photos. I think I'll do more of these in the future now that I have two tripods and the a6000 as a second camera body.

That off and running, it was time to get the big camera out and get to shooting. I won't go into much detail for each shot, other than some of the technical information, but suffice to say it was a productive morning. I'm really happy with several of the shots I came away with. 

Sony a7rii | Sony 16-35 f/4 @ 16mm | 2.5 sec | f/13 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 16-35 f/4 @ 16mm | 2.5 sec | f/13 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 132mm | 0.6 sec | f/13 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 132mm | 0.6 sec | f/13 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 145mm | 0.8 sec | f/11 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 145mm | 0.8 sec | f/11 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 200mm | 0.4 sec | f/9 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 200mm | 0.4 sec | f/9 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 200mm | 1/8 sec | f/9 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 200mm | 1/8 sec | f/9 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 200mm | 1/25 sec | f/9 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 200mm | 1/25 sec | f/9 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | 16-35 f/4 @ 16mm | 1/8 sec + 1/25 sec | f/11 | ISO 100 | Two-image blend for focus and exposure

Sony a7rii | 16-35 f/4 @ 16mm | 1/8 sec + 1/25 sec | f/11 | ISO 100 | Two-image blend for focus and exposure

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 85mm | 1/25 sec | f/11 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 85mm | 1/25 sec | f/11 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 71mm | 1/4 sec | f/7.1 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 71mm | 1/4 sec | f/7.1 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 70mm | 0.5 sec | f/22 | ISO 100

Sony a7rii | Sony 70-200 f/4 @ 70mm | 0.5 sec | f/22 | ISO 100

DJI Mavic Pro | 1/430 sec | f/2.2 | ISO 100

DJI Mavic Pro | 1/430 sec | f/2.2 | ISO 100

DJI Mavic Pro | 1/100 sec | f/2.2 | ISO 156

DJI Mavic Pro | 1/100 sec | f/2.2 | ISO 156

The sun up and the best of the fog and light gone, I started hiking back towards the car when I heard voices at the overlook above me. Looking up, I saw a guy in a gray suit and he tells me they're having a wedding.

"Now?"

"Yeah, she's, uh... walking down the aisle right now..."

Only in Colorado would anyone get married in the mountains in December when it's 9°F outside, but I quietly apologized, walked a big loop around the overlook back to the car, and headed off towards Keystone to hopefully get in a few ski runs before heading back to Denver.

Winter Pre-Sunrise Hike to Dream Lake

This past Saturday morning, I woke up around 2am with the intention of getting in some sunrise photography at Rocky Mountain National Park. I decided to shoot some video footage along the way with my new GoPro and had a lot of fun putting together my first ever YouTube video afterwards. Definitely a lot more work than I thought, but it's given me a whole new appreciation for the video editing process. Definitely something I'll continue to experiment with in the future.

The weather was a bit too cloudy for much color in the sunrise, but it was a gorgeous day nonetheless and I was able to get a few shots I was happy with. 

Dream Lake Sunrise

Hikers at Dream Lake

Self Portrait

Longs Peak